The phone rang early Sunday morning. I glanced at the caller ID, wondering who could be calling me at this hour.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought, recognizing the name as someone I had talked to once in probably five years.
This was the fourth such call we’d gotten in the past month. Once again, some random friend of my mother-in-law was calling to talk about my son. People just couldn’t stay out of our business.
“Hi Sharon,” came the overly sweet voice on the other end. She quickly got around to asking what they all ask: “But what does he look like physically?”
“That’s private,” I said, matching her sweet tone. “We don’t talk about that.”
“I’m just asking you because you’re a doctor.”
“Yes,” I was firm. “But he’s my son, and it’s private.”
I am the mother of a 16-year-old transgender boy. For years, our child, whom we had thought was our daughter, suffered from depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, self-cutting and suicidal thoughts before he came to us with his big secret. He was, in fact, male and he had hidden this through episodes of bullying and transfers to five different schools in three years. His life had been painful and he had wanted to end it at times. Finally, with the help of a kind and understanding therapist, he’d decided at the age of 15 to share with us who he truly was inside. We immediately showered him with love and support and watched with amazement as his anxiety and depression all but disappeared. Living as his true self was the blessing he’d been looking for, and our family was so much better off with a happy and more adjusted son.
Some of the people in our community, though, couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the change. We began getting calls from people we barely knew asking extremely personal questions about our child. Amazingly, people mostly wanted to know about his genitals and whether or not he was going to have an operation — deeply personal matters, especially concerning a child. The thought of 70-year-old women thinking and talking about my son’s nether regions really disgusted me.
In what other scenario would asking someone about what’s in their pants be okay? If your name is Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono or model Carmen Carrera, people apparently think it’s just fine to ask — including Katie Couric, who persistently questioned Carrera about her “private parts” in an interview. In what world is it okay for adults to discuss children’s most personal anatomy? I can’t be the only one who finds this disturbing.
I understand that it’s human nature to be curious, and our society is becoming more open about all sorts of topics — turn on the television, and you can now see commercials advertising vaginal lubricant and erectile dysfunction pills. My generation is definitely a product of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. But we have to have boundaries.
When others ask me whether or not my son has a vagina, and they actually do ask, I feel violated and disrespected. Transgender people are human. They are not animals in a zoo. They are not meant to be gawked at and verbally dissected. People seem to realize that it’s not polite to ask a mom about her mentally disabled son’s IQ or how her paralyzed daughter uses the restroom. So, why is it okay to ask me what’s between my child’s leg? Bottom line: It’s not.
Our sex organs shouldn’t be a topic of someone else’s conversation. The only people who should feel remotely comfortable asking us about them are our partners and our doctors. That topic should be off limits to anyone else, unless we bring the issue up ourselves.
I want desperately to be patient with such inquisitive people and believe that they’re asking me these questions because they honestly don’t know that they shouldn’t. I want to think that others ask me about my son’s reproductive system because they actually care about him. And, yet, I am sure that most of them are actually just being nosy. I am sick and tired of saying “Private parts are private,” to those who ask, as though they are four-year-olds in a preschool class.
As transgender issues find their way more often into mainstream media, I’m certain that we’ll see an influx of transgender people finally feeling comfortable coming out as the gender that they truly are. More of us will find out we actually know someone who is trans. Thus, it’s important to understand how you can help to support them and how to avoid being accidentally offensive.
I love it when others ask me basic questions about being transgender, in order to learn and understand. Questions such as “What does it mean to be transgender?” or “How does someone know if they are transgender?” help others grasp what we’re going through. I am always happy to educate those around me in order to increase tolerance and acceptance.
On the other hand, probing questions aren’t okay. If a transgender person wants you to know the intimate details of his or her transition, he or she will tell you. Just leave it at that.
It’s also unnecessary to praise the parents of a transgender person for being brave and supportive of their child. Years ago, when my younger child had pneumonia and I was up all night giving her breathing treatments around the clock, no one told me that I was brave. When my son had his appendix out in April, no one praised me for taking him to the hospital and being so supportive of his abdominal pain. I take care of my kids because they are my kids and I love them. I am not brave. I am not a hero. I am just a mom. And like any good parent, I will do whatever it takes to keep my children happy and safe. All I want is for people to accept my son and my family as a normal family that has its normal ups and downs. Treat a transgender person and their loved ones like you would anyone else. Transgender people, unfortunately, often stand out. Please try to help them simply blend in.
I saw a video recently where a transgender woman talked about being asked how she makes love. Her answer was, “Fabulously! How do you do it?” What a fantastic answer for a question to which any one of us would be uncomfortable to respond.
When someone meets my family for the first time, I usually say, “Hi, I’m Sharon. This is my husband, my daughter and my son.”
That’s all anyone really needs to know.